The boycott of the Manchester Grand Hyatt by pro-gay-marriage groups may be the beginning of problems for Hyatt hotels. The company has a long history of courting LGBT business, but Hyatt's association with San Diego hotelier Doug Manchester has begun to tarnish its image nationwide.
The problems began, of course, with the California Supreme Court decision last June legalizing gay marriage in the state. Manchester, citing his Catholic beliefs, donated $125,000 to help get a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage onto the November 2008 ballot. Soon after, Californians Against Hate, a nonprofit formed to fight for gay marriage, joined with the hotel-workers union UNITE HERE! to boycott the Manchester Grand Hyatt Downtown.
But while Manchester owns the hotel building, the business itself is run by Global Hyatt Corporation, one of the biggest hotel chains in the world. The company has heretofore had an excellent reputation among the LGBT community, donating millions to non-political gay organizations and, along the way, earning a 100-percent score from the Human Rights Campaign, one of the largest gay-rights groups in the country.
When the Prop. 8 campaign revved up, Hyatt's only comments were to point out that while it manages a hotel for Manchester, the two are separate entities with different political views. That wasn't enough for gay groups, who wanted nothing less than a repudiation of Manchester and possibly even a severing of ties.
As the boycott against the Manchester hotel gained momentum—Manchester himself recently conceded that it had cost the Grand Hyatt $7 million—it began to spread outward to other Hyatt hotels. In April, gay groups rallied in West Hollywood in front of an Andaz Hotel, a boutique chain managed by Hyatt. A month later, a resolution by the West Hollywood City Council called on Hyatt and Andaz to convince Manchester to change his ways, averting a more extreme call for the Andaz to end any connection it might have with Manchester. On May 13, gay groups and UNITE HERE! rallied in front of the Long Beach Hyatt and called for a repudiation of Manchester and his views, as well. In Chicago, Equality Illinois held a town hall calling on Global Hyatt to repudiate Manchester, and Hyatt met with EQIL members the following week.
“We want Hyatt global to tell Doug Manchester to put a stop to his actions and provide restitution,” said Rick Jacobs, director of the Courage Campaign, an L.A.-based progressive-politics organization. “He needs to make a very large contribution of an equal size to repeal Prop. 8.”
Hyatt is under contract to run Manchester's hotel at least until 2037, with two 10-year options after that, so severing all ties is unlikely. But this spring, Manchester hired gay activist and PR impresario Howard Bragman to help him turn his image around. Last month, Manchester issued an apology to the LGBT community and promised never to give money to anti-marriage causes again. In addition, he offered $25,000 in cash grants and $100,000 in hotel services to gay groups. But the move was insufficient for gay-marriage groups, which plan to continue the boycott, and there are plans for additional rallies in front of more Hyatts around the country.
“We'll do whatever we have to do,” Jacobs said, “to get Mr. Manchester's attention and Hyatt's attention.”